Shiprock’s a closer drive than Santa Fe or Albuquerque – only about two hours – and yet, Durango folks tend to forget about it as a cultural touchstone. It’s more than a big rock in the wild or a drive-through. There’s a thriving community of artists and activists who, though they’ve had some setbacks, strive on.
Anthony J. Lee, also known as Larigot, is a 24-year-old musician, promoter, and sophomore studying web development through Full Sail University. Recently, his DIY venue, Asterix, shut down. We talked to Lee to get the lowdown on who he is, why we should be paying attention to his hometown, and what young folks want for Shiprock, New Mexico.
Who are you?I’m a facilitator. I can’t say I run everything around here. I just connect people, bring them together.
I started out as a musician and it’s turned into promoting. I am in a band (Heart Museum), but nobody would book my band. When I started, there were only three bands in the area and they were the first ones to start throwing shows. Back then, if you wanted to go to a show, you had to know somebody.
Like a house show?Yeah, exactly. Nobody ever really invited me [laughs].
So you wanted to open up the scene a bit? Yeah. Nobody would book my band so I started putting together my own things. Then I started meeting people and getting bands from different areas wanting me to arrange shows. I kept at it.
How did that turn into you opening Asterix? We would always books at this place called the MOD. It became the norm, but nobody ever wanted to go there because there was no bathroom, there was no heater, usually there was like a hole in the roof.
We had toyed with the idea of getting our own space, even being just kids. I was going through a period of time where I had tried to kill myself and I decided to do something more positive with my life.
War Party Productions books a lot of the shows in Shiprock. Are you War Party Productions? War Party Productions was supposed to be at team effort but ended up being me.
It’s hard to find a reputable promoter. One thing I’m known for, up until (the loss of the venue), is not canceling shows. I would always follow through, pay out of my own pocket if I had to. Even if there’s no money involved, I would try and give a band a place to stay, or something to eat, or treat ’em good.
When I opened Asterix everyone said not to. I’m kind of stubborn and it made sense to me. I was getting bands wanting me to book about four shows a month.
What’s the music scene in Shiprock like? There’s a ton of great bands. Because there’s not a lot of jobs, not a lot to do. People get creative. I’ve met so many artists and musicians. A lot of hip-hop, some metal, and some really great indie and punk bands.
How many people come out to shows?Anywhere from 10 to 90 people. It all depends on the promoter and the band and how much work is put into it. I’ve had great bands come through and play in front of only other bands. And that sucks because they came to me expecting a huge show, but I’ve also had huge shows for small bands because they put in the effort to promote.
Any shout-outs to bands we should know? TyRant started making a name for himself. He just started playing and he’s already toured to Los Angeles. Already being asked to play all these place. He’s a hip-hop artist.
The Ferrets. You can sense influences for pop punk and hardcore ... I think they’re still finding their sound and going in a great direction.
Lo Cash Ninjas just came back from tour. They’re punk and ska. They’re coming up on their 10-year anniversary, which is crazy.
My band, Heart Museum. We’re melodic hardcore. Post hardcore. We’re still experimenting.
Why should bands coming through care about Shiprock?We are in a prime spot. You can go to Flagstaff, Denver, Salt Lake, Albuquerque, Durango. Bands will come through here anyways and most bands would rather play than drive through.
What’s up next now that Asterix is closed?A little before the place closed, we were talking about creating a community building because that’s what it was turning into. Making it a nonprofit space.
Why a nonprofit community center? I’m a part of a group called Diné Introspective and we’re a community group ... A collective of people who want to do some type of good in the community.
When I was younger I was homeless so I was always involved in community stuff. So when I had (Asterix), I was like, “Let’s do a ton of community things.” Make it free, like game nights.
Is creating that nonprofit community space still on the table? We still have that vision for this collective ... Even though it started out with a venue, I want it to be more than that and more than me ... I want everybody to jump on board, taking pride in themselves and their community. There’s so many talented people here. All I’ve been doing is connecting this person to this person.
Do you think people not from Shiprock see it as it really is?Now, people don’t see Shiprock as a bunch of drunken Indians anymore. They did for a long time ... Now, they see that there’s culture here, that there’s art. It’s always been there but it’s becoming more visible.
We have a lot of touring bands that geek out about playing on the rez. They go, “Oh my god, we’re playing on a reservation?” A lot of these people, especially from out on the coasts, they don’t even seem to know that Native Peoples still exist. They think if they do, they’re still in teepees and shit.
So what’s up next, then?Once we get a building, we want to do a bunch of fundraisers, a bunch of projects. Maybe a BMX park, a place to skate, host hikes. There’s a lot of places to do rock climbing and trails that can be made for mountain biking and there’s a lot of hidden gems in this area that aren’t utilized. The entire time I grew up here, everyone said how they wanted to get out and how embarrassed of Shiprock they were, but they were saying that from their rooms and not experiencing what it had to offer.
There’s a lot of empty buildings in Shiprock, but the issue with Shiprock is not a lot of buildings have plumbing, almost no buildings have plumbing. A lot of the buildings are too old and have to be torn down, cleared, and rebuilt. We want to focus on getting the economy going in Shiprock. There was a once upon a time when the place was doing decent, at least.
How long ago was that?Before I was born, I know that for sure.
How do you think an economic rise can happen for Shiprock?My big philosophy is that I personally feel that people who live here have a shared interest. Reach out and get involved. Be as involved as you want to be but don’t take on anything you don’t want to do.
We need a network. To come together. We have a bunch of trades. A bunch of skills. There’s just not a lot of money here. Because of that everything is DIY. Everybody knows how to build something. Everybody knows how to fix something. The money will come. We’ll figure it out. We’ll figure it out as a community with a volunteer base.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Patty TempletonDGO Staff Writer